CommuniquéENVRI community

Diversity of ecosystems will help to prevent the spread of new pandemics

on the 15 April 2020

Diversity of ecosystems will help to prevent the spread of new pandemics

Dear Professor Jan Hrusak*,
*Chairperson of ESFRI

Please, below you will find some elements in response to your letter of 23 March, 2020.

AnaEE performs experimentations on continental ecosystems (i.e. manipulation) with aims to understand how they react and evolve under the anthropic pressures, either the climate change (and its consequences at regional level, such as the precipitation regime), the pollution or management practices. AnaEE experimental facilities are distributed all over Europe, from the Mediterranean to the sub-arctic regions, including the overseas (tropical). They include terrestrial ecosystems, but also lake and rivers, and are of different types, from open-air to enclosed ecosystems. In addition, the behaviour and future of ecosystems can be understood and simulated thanks to our modelling facilities.

As such, AnaEE is not involved in the current research effort about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and Covid-19 pandemics, as it is not within our scope of research. However, I note that many of our teams have contributed to the national efforts against the pandemics by donating to the hospitals, or involved research institutes, materials such as appropriate protective masks and medical coats, CRP kits and qCRP measurement devices, among other efforts.

However, I would like to underline that beside the urgency of the current pandemics, there are links between the spread of diseases and our core business and AnaEE goals, i.e. global change consequences. We note that the Covid-19 pandemics will produce very urgent follow-up challenges for food supply and security, energy, and need for the populations to recover after these stressful conditions. Ecological principles and findings can be used to make human systems more robust in face of major disturbances.

AnaEE can contribute to these challenges by its research projects related to the adaptation and mitigation of ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems and continental waters in the view of anthropic changes. This will result in recommendations for management practices that will have a direct impact in the diversification of the production and the development of local systems which will provide higher security in the food supply chains in situations where global transportation is shut down for safety reasons.

The preservation and adaptation of unmanaged ecosystems, beside the important services they give to the populations, will help in the preservation of the habitat for wild species, preventing them the need to get close to humans, hence limiting the risk of animal-human contamination from viruses breaking the species barrier. It can further be argued that the current economic shocks and supply problems are akin to losses in ecosystem functioning in an impoverished system: ecosystems in which few species dominate are vulnerable to external influences that hit those species hard. Global economy and health care rely too much on very few countries/supply lines. In more diverse ecosystems, ecosystem functioning would generally be more stable in the longer run. There may be a future perspective here where AnaEE can facilitate learnings from ecological models of diversity and robustness to socio-economic models.

AnaEE has started already an effort to work in collaboration with other infrastructures either in the Environmental domain, within ENVRI, or the Food and Health domain (such as ELIXIR), in line with the priorities of the Horizon Europe initiative, and the Green Deal initiative from the European Commission.

As an example, we have started a collaboration, together with an intergovernmental organization that is involved in the research and capacity building of agronomy and agriculture in the Mediterranean area at large, to build a community of researchers in the domain of soil and plant health, which will be important in view of the challenges that are facing us.

Finally, on behalf of AnaEE, I would like to thank you and the ESFRI for the efforts made in structuring the research and research facilities in Europe, which will prove to be useful especially for follow-up research after the end of the current epidemics.

With kind regards,

Michel Boër,
Director General

Mis à jour le 28 June 2020